America’s past and present are full of technological innovation, and much of it is centered in the Midwest. On your next trip through the region, make time for a tour of one of these iconic manufacturing facilities.
John Deere has been building tractors in Waterloo, Iowa, for more than 100 years. Visitors to the Tractor Cab Assembly Operations plant and the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum can take a 90-minute tour that details how the company got into building tractors and engines.
There are three tours available: the Engine Works tour, which runs twice a day and shows visitors how John Deere engines are manufactured; the Drivetrain Operations tour, which shows visitors how gears, shafts and housings are machined and critical components are tested; and the Tractor Cab Assembly Operations tour, where teams of production employees complete final assembly on the company’s 7, 8 and 9 Family Tractors.
Tours of the Tractor Cab Assembly Operations facility run three times a day.
While in Waterloo, visitors should check out the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum, which features classic tractors and interactive displays that tell the evolution of the tractor from horse-drawn to engine-driven. The company continues to innovate and improve its large tractors with the latest technology and design improvements.
Honda Heritage Center and Auto Plant Tour
The Honda Heritage Center, which opened in 2015, is a free museum that showcases how Marysville, Ohio, became the largest Honda manufacturing facility in the country. It started out by manufacturing motorcycles, but in 1979, it began producing automobiles. The first U.S.-made Honda Accord rolled off the line in November 1982.
Today, the company’s Marysville operations include the Marysville Auto Plant, the East Liberty Auto Plant and the Performance Manufacturing Center. In January 2020, Honda of America built its 20 millionth vehicle in Ohio. The plants make Honda and Acura brand cars and light trucks.
Groups of up to 60 people can sign up to take a 2.5-hour tour of both the manufacturing plant and the museum. Tours start at the Honda Heritage Center and include either a tour of the Marysville Auto Plant or the East Liberty Auto Plant. Guests visit the museum first and then drive to the plant. The tour is physically demanding and includes a fast-paced one-hour walk through the factory floor that covers about a mile and a half. Visitors get to see every step of the production process except paint. The manufacturing robots are a highlight of the tour.
Miller Brewery Tour
Celebrating its 165th anniversary, the Milwaukee Brewing Company offers a public tour and a historic tour of its extensive Milwaukee operations. The public tour tells the story of Frederick Miller and his journey to the U.S. to start a brewery in 1855. Visitors get the chance to explore his large underground cave complex where he stored his beer before mechanical refrigeration was invented, said Kindra Loferski, guest relations manager for the Miller Visitor Center.
Miller chopped ice from local lakes and streams, covered it with sawdust and hay and lined the walls of the caves. He would put beer there to keep cold during the hot summer months.
Visitors also get to see the Miller Inn, which once housed brewery workers and had a bowling alley, a mess hall and a bar. Today, the building is home to three bars.
The 80-minute tour includes a visit to Miller’s brewhouse, packaging and distribution halls. Miller Brewing’s newest offering takes visitors on a two-hour, extensive history tour of Miller Valley and details how things used to work before modern technology came about. Groups are welcome on both tours with advance bookings. Guests on the public tour over the age of 21 leave with a pint glass and a chip that is good for a free beer at one of many retail locations in Milwaukee. Guests on the history tour leave with a ceramic beer stein. Guests on both tours have many beer-tasting opportunities throughout their visit. They also get a free drink at the end of the tour.
Ford Rouge Factory Tour
The Ford Rouge Factory tour begins with a 3D multisensory film experience that uses advanced projection mapping technology, vibrating seats and robots to immerse visitors in the production process of Ford’s iconic F-150 truck. They then head over to the Dearborn Truck Plant for a one- to two-hour tour of the Ford campus.
The top attraction is the walking tour of the Dearborn Truck Plant, where the new military-grade aluminum-alloy-body Ford F-150 truck is made. The tour of the plant is self-guided. Guests walk above the plant’s final assembly line on a 1/3-mile elevated walkway where they get to see the F-150 come into the plant as an empty shell and leave as a completed, fully tested road-ready vehicle.
The manufacturing plant can turn out one truck per minute at full line speed.
The plant has been recognized for its sustainability. The company transformed a brownfield into a living laboratory using stormwater management, land use and redevelopment, support of natural ecosystems and wildlife habitat, and solar energy. The roof of the Dearborn Truck Plant final assembly building is covered with drought-resistant plants like sedum that cover 454,000 square feet or more than 10 acres.
Visitors can also visit the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, which tells the stories of many of America’s greatest minds, including the Wright brothers; and Greenfield Village, an open-air museum that immerses visitors in the sights and sounds of 300 years of American life through seven historic districts.
Wick’s Pies was founded in 1944 by Duane “Wick” Wickersham. He started his own bakery and cafe, the Rainbow Restaurant in downtown Winchester, using his mother’s recipes. The pies were so popular that he decided to start selling those separately and then had to start a factory to produce enough pies to meet the demand.
That factory still stands, and visitors are invited to tour the plant and see where the magic happens, including the making of the sugar cream pie, Indiana’s state pie.
Fast-forward to 2020, and Wick’s family still runs Wick’s Pies. The company’s pie factory pumps out 10,000 pies and 30,000 pie shells in an eight-hour shift.
Tours of the plant include the flour room, where the company uses about 15,000 pounds of flour daily, said Dylan Wickersham, Wick’s grandson, who works in sales and marketing for the company.
The flour comes from the flour silo into a large sifter that shakes the flour into a 50-gallon stainless bowl where it is mixed with lard or vegetable shortening, salt, water, dextrose and baking soda. The dough is then rolled out twice by machine before being laid flat over a pie pan. The pies are filled just before they go into the large oven for baking. They are then packaged and frozen.
“We recommend you bring a cooler so you can load up on pie before you leave and come hungry for a nice farm-inspired meal: breakfast, lunch or dinner,” Wickersham said. Mrs. Wick’s Restaurant, which was founded by Wick in 1986, is a full-service bakery and cafe that serves 36 varieties of pie each day. It is just north of the factory.